“Profit with a Higher Purpose” book on Amazon!

We are excited to announce that the latest edition of our Christian guide to business leadership is now available on Amazon for purchase in either paperback or Kindle format. The paperback comes with a free matching Kindle download.

Bringing the rule of God to the business world will improve the lives of thousands the world over. This transformation must start with Christian business leaders acting on their faith when they are at work, not just when they go to church. Our hope and prayer for this book is that its message will reach many. For some, it may be a wake-up call and a challenge, for others it may simply be an additional resource on their faith journey.

But first, we need to reach as many people as possible with this message. So we are humbly asking for your help in getting the word out:

  1. SHARE. Please forward this email announcement to your friends, share our related posts on LinkedIn or FaceBook, and retweet our Tweets about the book.
  2. REVIEW. Kindly post a review – even a very short one – on the Amazon book page and/or on GoodReads.
  3. CONNECT. Please connect us to people and organizations who might be interested in the book, whether media personalities, book reviewers, business leaders, clergy or academic institutions.

Today’s press release and the rest of the press kit can be found here.

Regards,

Peet van Biljon and James C Sprouse

The Women of Easter

In the new edition of our book, “Profit with a Higher Purpose” (available May 2017), we explore the problems with sexism and the lack of diversity in organizations in a section titled “The Power of Diversity”. We also show the opportunities that can be opened up when teams are made more diverse.

Sexism is rife in Silicon Valley, according to a recent cover story in the Atlantic, titled “Why Is Silicon Valley So Awful to Women?”. The Atlantic article explains how often women are dismissed in a male-dominated culture: first, they are dismissed as qualified candidates during the hiring process, and second – even if they get hired – their opinions are all too often dismissed and the value of their work discounted. We read how Tracy Chou, a Stanford-educated software engineer working at a start-up, discovered a major bug in the company’s software code. But her concerns were dismissed by her male colleagues. She persisted and even demonstrated the problem to them. But it was only after a male co-worker acknowledged that she was right that the company acted. Her proposed bug fix then had to be reviewed by two male engineers before it could be implemented, which was also unusual.

While the Silicon Valley sexism will seem all too familiar to women working elsewhere, it is painfully ironic that a supposed bastion of progress and modernity like Silicon Valley is deeply infected with gender and also racial bias. The further irony is that diversity is actually good for innovation as has been shown in several studies.

This Easter, we would do well to remind ourselves of the centrality of women to the greatest story ever told, that of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection. Here is an extract from the section on diversity in our book:

The world in which Jesus lived two thousand years ago was a totally male-dominated society. Yet, the writers of the gospels took great care to include women in their stories, and to value women in ways that may not seem remarkable to modern readers, but would have stood out to contemporary gospel readers. Mark, in particular, uses inclusive terminology throughout his gospel and often holds out women as models of discipleship and sacrifice. Mark also records multiple interactions between Jesus and women, where Jesus heals women and treats women outcasts with respect and mercy in a way that startled his followers. (Note: Do yourself a favor and read the whole book of Mark this Easter weekend with a specific eye open for the role of women – it’s quite remarkable!)

When Jesus is crucified several women remain to watch from a distance[i] long after the male disciples have fled. They observe his death and some follow Joseph of Arimathea to see where he buries Jesus. In Mark 16 we read that on Easter morning Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome find an empty tomb when they bring spices to anoint Jesus’s body. They are startled to learn from an angel that Jesus has risen. The resurrected Jesus then appears first to a woman, Mary Magdalene. But she is not believed when she tells the disciples. This is not only normal incredulity given the extraordinary events. At this time women cannot even testify in court, so little status do they have. The men of the time are predisposed to discount a woman’s testimony. (As too many still do today.) But the gospel writer, Mark,  is signaling to us that this bias is wrong by making women’s testimony central to the credibility of his account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a pivotal truth of the Christian faith. As Paul says elsewhere, “and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”[ii]

Reflect on the following: Christians by definition believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But to believe in Jesus’s resurrection you also have to trust the women whose crucial eyewitness testimony was dismissed at the time.

What and whom do you choose to believe this Easter?

In gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice and in celebration of his resurrection,

Peet van Biljon and James C Sprouse


[i] Mark 15:40-41.

[ii] 1 Cor. 15:14.

 

 

New Edition and New Title for our Business Ethics Book!

We are excited to announce that a second edition of our business ethics book will launch this spring under the new title, “Profit with a Higher Purpose”.

Here is a sneak peak of the brand new cover design.

We are aiming for an Easter release. Stay tuned for further announcements!

Peet van Biljon and James C Sprouse


Foreword to the Second Edition

Each of us has our own God-given purpose. If we live out this purpose in our work lives and work hard to do the right thing every day, it will not only add up across the entire economy, but powerful network effects will come into play, reinforcing and accelerating our individual efforts for the greater good. This is because people who see us will act on our good example, and yet more others will act on their example, and so on. The metaphor that Jesus used in his day was that of yeast: “And again he said, ‘To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’” (Luke 13:20-21)

The first edition of this book was published in 2016 under the title “Business Ethics for Executives – a Christian Decision Guide”. The book had a warm reception from most everyone who read it. However, we realized after a while that the original title was limiting our potential readership to those interested in the rather narrow genre of business-ethics books. While the book indeed covers business ethics quite extensively, it is more than another ethics book. It is a book advocating ethical business leadership based on time-tested Judeo-Christian principles. In the pages that follow we challenge business leaders – especially those of faith – to embark on a journey of personal and professional growth. That makes it a leadership and personal growth book, maybe even more so than an ethics book.

In this second edition we have added references to some of the latest ethics-related news stories, as well as to noteworthy new research on economic topics like executive compensation and the impact of automation.

We hope and pray that this book will help our readers align their daily business decisions more closely with their faith and thereby contribute to a transformation of the business world into one that is more people-centric than profit-centric. After publishing the first edition, we were greatly encouraged by meeting so many people of faith in the business world who already share this purpose and live it every day. If you are one of them, we hope this book will be a resource for you as we travel the road together, following in the Way of Jesus. And if you are new to this journey, you should know that you will not be alone and that there are many others who will walk with you. We invite you to join us!

The authors, March 2017


If you want to know more about our aspiration for this work, please have a look at the interview we did before the first edition was published.

 

10 Ethical Principles for Business Leaders – A New Year’s Resolution

In the book, we argue for a principled approach to modern business and organizational leadership based on age-old wisdom from our Judeo-Christian tradition. We show how Biblical commands can be applied to modern business questions if one 1. looks at the underlying economics of each issue, 2. compare it to equivalent examples from Biblical times and 3. translate the relevant old commands for today’s business environment.

Humanity has indeed known the difference between right and wrong for a long time. The hard part is making the right decision in the heat of the moment when powerful opposing forces like peer pressure, profit expectations and our own career ambitions may be pulling us in the wrong direction.

At the start of 2017, it may be useful for us to reflect on what exactly the ethical principles are that we want to follow in our daily business endeavors. I’ve distilled the 10 principles below from all the chapters in our book. These principles are intentionally formulated in secular terms so that they are shareable with an even wider audience. And they are all phrased as imperatives because a principle must make us do something.

  1. Have a higher corporate purpose than making profits – know whom you want to serve and what good you want to contribute to society
  2. Choose true leadership – lead with humility and integrity, and look past appearances for new leadership talent
  3. Treat employees well – do not make unreasonable demands of workers and give them a healthy work-life balance
  4. Exchange value fairly – charge fair prices, pay fair compensation and do not unduly shift your costs to others
  5. Serve the best interests of your customers – never sell harmful products/services or promote abusive consumption patterns
  6. Deceive or coerce no one – use only ethical persuasion techniques and don’t exploit your negotiating advantages against weaker parties
  7. Treat suppliers equitably – don’t abuse your buying power and only enter into mutually beneficial transactions
  8. Respect the environment – don’t burden society with your externalities and work towards a sustainable future for all
  9. Do right by anyone you may have harmed – offer full restitution when your products or operations have caused harm
  10. Show trust in people – be generous to all and create opportunities for everyone to thrive

Please feel free to comment or suggest any additions or refinements!

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Posted by Peet van Biljon

What a tangled web we weave…

We just got a biological explanation for why small lies lead to big lies: Our brains get desensitized by every lie we tell.

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In an article, “The brain adapts to dishonesty”, published in Nature Neuroscience, the authors (Neil Garrett, Stephanie C Lazzaro, Dan Ariely & Tali Sharot) provide “empirical evidence for a gradual escalation of self-serving dishonesty”. In plain English: they show how people who lie just a little to help themselves will tell more frequent and bigger lies as they go on.

The authors describe how self-serving dishonesty is initially perceived as morally wrong, making us uncomfortable. But just like any other emotion-evoking stimulus, repeated exposure weakens that stimulus. So the more one practices lying, the more one becomes desensitized to it.  The researchers used functional MRI scans for brain imaging in order to identify the biological mechanism at work in their subjects. They gave their volunteer test subjects tasks with repeated opportunities to act dishonestly. In the brain scans they could observe how signals in the amygdala that would curb dishonesty diminish with repeated acts of dishonesty. In biological terms this is called adaptation. In moral terms, it is corruption. If you ignore that little voice in your head that tells you what you are doing is wrong, the next time the voice will be softer, and you will be able to tell a bigger lie. This is a classic slippery slope.

Commenting in the Scientific American, Simon Makin points out that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of dishonesty escalating over time, which is what prompted the research. “Whether it’s evading taxes, being unfaithful, doping in sports, making up data or committing financial fraud, deceivers often recall how small acts of dishonesty snowballed over time,” neuroscientist and senior author, Tali Sharot, told the press during a teleconference.

In our book, “Business Ethics for Executives”, we discuss the ethical pitfalls associated with various persuasion techniques at length. In chapter 6, “Temptations of a Salesperson”, we provide a practical, situation-based ethical framework for persuasion techniques that takes into account the information gaps and differences in sophistication between parties. We also emphasized that lying is always an unacceptable persuasion technique:

Deception and lies can be used in any persuasion strategy and will always be wrong no matter the context. And any form of coercion or bribery is obviously always wrong. Remember that there is no such thing as a little deception or a little dishonesty. Jesus explicitly warned us against rationalizing away any form of dishonesty: “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.”[1]

But before we go on to discuss the more nuanced persuasion strategies, let us pause to remind ourselves of the seriousness of the sin of deception. Lies of all shapes, sizes, and hues circulate freely in the business world, effectively greasing the wheels of day-to-day commerce. But Jesus was very forceful when assessing the gravity of lying: “You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”[2] Lying is the devil’s work—plain and simple. This may be simple, but it is not easy. Christian businesspeople should never lie!

Here we have yet another example of modern research confirming age-old wisdom. The research suggests that we are designed to be uncomfortable with telling a lie, but that if we keep overriding that impulse, it become easier for us. Deception is one “skill” we are best off not to practice at all, because we certainly do not want to become better at it!

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Posted by Peet van Biljon

[1] Luke 16:10.

[2] John 8:44.

Stop Extreme Work Hours – a Labor Day Resolution

Today let us reject extreme work hours. They harm workers and families, and diminish us as a society. And the hours are unproductive.

buried-alive-1241454

I must thank Jena McGregor for making this same point so forcefully in her recent article in the Washington Post, “Stop touting the crazy hours you work. It helps no one.”

McGregor points out that Donald Trump frequently criticizes Hillary Clinton for sleeping, and brags about not taking vacations. She also reminds us that Marrisa Mayer recently told Bloomberg Businessweek that Google’s early success depended on people who could answer one question, “Could you work 130 hours in a week?” Mayer went on to explain that “The answer is yes, if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom.“ I fully agree with McGregor that this insanity has to stop; as she says in her article, “The idea that being well-rested could be a black mark against a leader is preposterous.” She then makes the same point that we made in our book: productivity decreases after working 50 hours a week, and plummets once you hit the high 50s.

There is ample research on human productivity, which is why everyone who looks at credible data comes to the same conclusion. We do not do good work when we are tired. Fatigue makes us stupid and error prone. It’s similar to being drunk on the job. It is bitterly ironic that leaders at tech titans, who pride themselves on their love of data and facts, so willfully ignore this fact on human productivity. There is no data to  support the absurd and destructive notion that a human being has 130 productive hours to give in a week. To believe otherwise is to act like a member of cult, who blindly follows the leaders, scorns those outside the cult and refuses to acknowledge any facts that contradict his/her beliefs.

Today is a good day to reflect on this. It is Labor Day, a public holiday observed in the US and Canada in honor of working people. Tomorrow everyone will be back at work, all the kids will be back in school and we will start the most intense working period of the year for most of us in the US – the sprint from Labor Day to Thanksgiving, late in November.

Working extreme hours is not just bad for an individual worker, but also for the worker’s family and community who are deprived of that worker’s presence, guidance and assistance. In our book, Business Ethics for Executives, we devote two chapters “The Big Time Crunch” and “The Many Sacrifices of the Ideal Worker” to an in-depth discussion of this big problem. We discuss the “pride in being superhuman” exhibited by bosses like Ms. Mayer and Mr. Trump, the compulsive habit of busyness that so many of us have adopted, and how work can become an addiction. We explain the harmful effects extreme work hours have on marriages and children. And we show how unreasonable the expectations of workers can be. We also address the scourge of unpaid overtime in a chapter on fair wages, “The Laborer is Worth His or Her Wage but Doesn’t Get It”, and show how workers have not been rewarded for their productivity increases since the mid 1970s, unlike in decades prior.

Business leaders have an important role to play in resetting unrealistic expectations. It is vitally important that they lead by example. If the boss works 18 hours a day and rarely takes a vacation, that sends a message to everyone that first it is expected of them too, and second that it is the way to get ahead in the organization. In the book, we’ve devoted quite a few pages to practical advice on how executives can change the culture at their organization. This includes things like properly winding down the workday, considerately scheduling meetings in a 24/7 globalized world, avoiding weekend work and using a maximum hour constraint as a productivity enhancement tool to eliminate wasteful work and “lean up” processes.

If you are an executive, changing the corporate culture will take leadership and courage. As we say in the book:

“You may have gained your own seniority by putting in all those extra hours, because it was expected of you and because it was rewarded. But like any cycle of abuse, it can be broken only if someone treats the next person and the next generation better than he or she was treated. This is the Christian way.”

Will you make this resolution on this fine Labor Day? If you do, please tell other people and pass it on!

Posted by Peet van Biljon

Sales Targets that Kill

Death by salesA young Indian salesman jumped in front of a train because he couldn’t make his company’s aggressive sales targets and couldn’t stand the pressure anymore. He leaves behind a wife and two young children. This report comes from today’s New York Times, in an unsettling article titled “Driven to Suicide by an ‘Inhuman and Unnatural’ Pressure to Sell“ based on a six-month investigation of marketing practices by pharmaceutical  companies in India. The events leading up to this personal tragedy and the systemic nature of the unethical sales practices are detailed in the NYT article, which is well worth reading.

In our soon-to-be-released book, Business Ethics for Executives, we argue that setting unrealistically high sales targets is an unethical management decision in itself. In Chapter 6, “Temptations of a Salesperson,” we open our discussion on problematic sales targets as follows:

“Executive management is fond of setting “stretch” targets—targets above realistic levels—to encourage everyone to think positively and pursue sales aggressively. But can stretch targets be set so high that they encourage the wrong type of behavior? For instance, can an insistence on maintaining growth in a maturing or saturating market lead desperate managers and employees to use dubious sales tactics? In such a case, the senior executives who set the unreasonable targets must share guilt. They cannot simply wash their hands and attribute what went wrong to some bad apples in their sales organization. Setting growth targets that cannot reasonably be reached is a conscious act by corporate executives, and they must bear responsibility for the consequences.”

From the highest levels of corporate management, down to the level of sales manager, everyone needs to accept responsibility for the targets they set, and the behavior that results. There is nothing wrong with being growth-focused, but setting targets that are clearly unrealistic will cause human suffering, and even death, as we saw in this tragic case.

Posted by Peet van Biljon

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